Some history on Wyman’s request to have Washington presidential primaries count

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 2.04.48 PMWashington Secretary of State Kim Wyman is proposing the state’s political parties use the presidential primary results to allocate at least some part of their delegates to the national political conventions. And she has provided a carrot, or maybe it’s a stick, to get them to go along.

Some history is in order.

In 2008 Washington Republicans allocated half their delegates from the February primary, which according to the Secretary of State’s office is what they have always done. The Democrats allocated none in 2008. It would have played more of a factor on the Democratic side, too, because Barack Obama won by a big margin in the caucuses, but just by a few points in the state primary, a reflection of what happened nationwide. Clinton fared much better with everyday Democratic voters across the country, while Obama did well with people more willing to take a day off to weigh in at the caucuses.

Of the state’s pledged 78 Democratic delegates in 2008, 52 went to Obama and 26 went to Clinton. Had Democrats done what Republicans did, the margin would have been 26-13 from the caucuses, and something like 20-18 from the primary, with John Edwards picking up the straggler. The final delegate count combining the caucus and primary would have been Obama 46, Clinton 31, and Edwards 1. The Edwards delegate would have probably ended up in Obama’s totals.

Obama ended up winning the national pledged delegate count by 102 delegates, but didn’t secure the majority until June. And by the time the Feb. 9, 2008 caucuses began he was only up by 11 delegates overall.

Looking back at how the election played out, had Washington Democrats done what Republicans did with the primary in 2008, the ultimate result would likely have been the same. Obama would have won. But perhaps there are some who could argue that a five-delegate shift, which amounts to 10 points in the margin, could have made a psychological difference. The fact is, though, we don’t know how many people skipped out on the 2008 Washington presidential primary or voted Republican, because the Democratic primary was a taxpayer-funded beauty contest.

The reason we have a presidential primary at all is because voters submitted an initiative to the Legislature in 1989 asking for one. In 2012 (Just as it did in 2004.) the state suspended the presidential primary to save $10 million. As the law stands now the parties don’t have to recognize the numbers from the primary. Bills in the House, HB 2139, and Senate, SB 5978, would change that.

If each party agrees to allocate part of their delegate count from the primary, voters would have to declare a party for that election and choose among that party’s candidates. Your party prefence selection would be a matter of public record, so if you pick a Republican or Democratic ballot, everyone in the state has the right to know that. If you sit out the election no one will know which party you prefer. If the parties don’t agree the state would create a single ballot with every candidate’s name. In no circumstance would anyone know who you voted for.

That, in fact, is where the carrot and stick come in. The state Republican and Democratic parties both love getting the lists of which voters picked which party. They haven’t received one of those since 2008, so a fresh list would update their data for fundraising and mailing. Under the terms of this law, if they don’t each allocate at least part of their pledged national delegates from the primary, there is no such list, because the Secretary of State would create one ballot that tells the parties nothing.

Presidential primaries do more for parties in years when there is no incumbent running, because in theory each race has a real contest. Another reason for parties to like primaries comes in years when candidates at the extreme end of party philosophy capture less affection from regular voters than they do from the more devoted. In 2008 any of the Democratic frontrunners could have fared well in November and Dennis Kucinich wasn’t getting enough support even at the caucuses to threaten Obama, Clinton or Edwards, so strategically the party could afford to ignore the primary. For Republicans in 2008 the thorn to the party bosses was Ron Paul, who received  8 percent of the primary vote (compared to 50 percent for John McCain), but 22 percent at the state caucuses, just 3 percentage points behind McCain.

The Legislature has to allocate funds to have the primary. Kitsap County would spend an estimated $345,000 to hold the election, but like all counties would be reimbursed by the state.

A story we reported in 2008 from the presidential primary follows.

McCain, Obama Maintain Their Leads in State Primaries

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama maintained his lead over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in Kitsap and increased it slightly across the state, according to the latest vote totals from Tuesday’s non-binding Democratic presidential primary.

On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain’s Washington campaign manager estimated that the senator picked up 16 of the 19 national delegates to be allocated from the primary. The campaign hopes to end up with 34 of the state party’s 40 delegates to the national convention in Minneapolis.

“The people of Washington have made their support for John McCain clear,” Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, McCain’s state committee chairman, said in a written statement. “We secured 16 of 19 delegates available in yesterday’s primary and look forward to securing 18 more delegates from our caucus win at the Washington State Republican Party State Convention in May. Washington voters undeniably recognize that John McCain is the best suited to serve as commander in chief, and is the man to unify and lead our party to victory in November.”

Statewide results from the Democratic Party showed Obama topping the 50 percent marker for the first time Wednesday, hanging on to a near four-percentage-point lead over Clinton. McCain stayed at 49 percent on the Republican side, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s total increasing one percentage point to 22 percent.

With about 3,600 more votes counted in Kitsap County on Wednesday, McCain and Obama maintained their numbers.

McCain and Obama held on to the 54 percent they’d finished with on Tuesday, with Clinton staying at 43 percent.

The Democrats will have 97 delegates at the national convention in Denver this summer, but none will be allocated from the primary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

Please enter the word MILK here: